Issue No. 114
For McSweeney’s 46, we reached out to thirteen writers across Latin America and asked them to send us a crime story set in their home country. We encouraged them to stretch their definition of the genre as far as they felt like stretching it, and ultimately, almost none of our writers came back with something straightforward. This was, we came to realize, the most delightful of all possible results. Jorge Enrique Lage sent in a story about a Cuban transvestite named Amy Winehouse; Joca Reiners Terron delivered one about a befuddled Polish insurance broker visiting Sao Paolo. And we received this gem from the Argentine writer Mariana Enriquez: “The Dirty Kid.”
I first read this story while taking the train home from work, and I was so engrossed that I missed my stop—I know this is a terrible cliché, missing a stop because you’re so engrossed in something, but like a lot of clichés, it’s true, it happened. In any case, this is sort of relevant, because it’s the type of detail that Mariana would be unafraid to include in a story. Her fictional universe feels unabashed, unmediated, and unafraid; her writing is so honest and observant that it’s able to evoke a reality that somehow seems more vivid than my own. Certainly more vivid than whatever was passing by outside my train. This is, of course, is the result of painstaking craftsmanship, and evidence of a first-rate writer.
But Enriquez’s work, I think, stands out for more than just its style. The story you are about to read explores the relationship between an upper-class graphic designer and a homeless child. Drawing on rural mythology and the texture of everyday life in Buenos Aires, Enriquez brings two distinct Porteño social classes into direct contact with each other, illuminating both the absurdity and the logic of the divisions that exist between them. It’s an enchanting, heartrending story—and also a remarkable meditation on the nature of violence and suspicion. Enriquez is a true storyteller, and through her work, you can sense the presence of a remarkably generous spirit.
I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did.
You can read interviews with all the McSweeney’s 46 authors here.
Managing Editor, McSweeney’s
Support Recommended Reading
by Mariana Enriquez
Recommended by McSweeney’s
My family thinks I’m crazy because I choose to live in the family house in Constitución, my paternal grandparents’ house, a hulk of stone and green-painted iron doors on Virreyes Street, with Art Deco details and old mosaics on the ﬂoor so worn out that, had it occurred to me to wax them, I could have set up a skating rink. But I had always been in love with that house, and, as a girl, when they first rented it to a law firm, I remember how much it upset me, how much I missed those rooms with tall windows and the interior patio that seemed like a secret garden, how frustrated I was when I went by the door and could no longer freely enter. I didn’t miss my grandfather much, a quiet man who scarcely smiled and never played. I didn’t even cry much when he died. I cried a lot more when, after his death, we lost the house.
After the lawyers a dental office took over. Then, finally, it was rented to a travel magazine, which closed in less than two years. The house was beautiful and comfortable, and in notably good condition for its age; but now no one, or very few people, wanted to move to the neighborhood. The travel magazine had only set up shop because the rent, back then, had been very cheap. Not even that had saved them from bankruptcy, although it certainly didn’t help that their offices were robbed a few months after they moved in. The thieves took all the computers, a microwave, even a heavy photocopier.
Constitución is where the trains from the south enter the city. It was the neighborhood where the Buenos Aires aristocracy lived in the nineteenth century—that’s why these houses, like my family’s, exist. In 1887, the aristocrats fled to the north of the city, trying to escape an epidemic of yellow fever raging in the south. Few, almost none, returned. Some of the mansions were converted into hotels or old-age homes; over time, rich merchants like my grandfather were able to buy up the unoccupied ones, with their gargoyles and bronze doorknockers. But the neighborhood has been marked by flight, abandonment, undesirability. On the other side of the station, in Barracas, the old houses have been reduced to rubble.
And it’s worse all the time.
But if you know how to handle yourself, if you understand the dynamics, the schedules, it’s not that dangerous. Or not as dangerous. It’s a question of not being afraid, of making a few key friends, of greeting the neighbors even though they’re criminals—especially if they’re criminals. Of walking with your head up, paying attention. I know that Friday nights, if I approach Plaza Garay, I may get trapped in a fight between various combatants: the small-time drug dealers of Ceballos Street, the brain-dead addicts who attack one another with bottles, the drunken transvestites determined to defend their stretch of pavement. I also know that if I come home on the avenue, I’m more exposed to a mugging than if I return down Solís Street, despite the fact that the avenue is very well lit. You have to know the neighborhood to learn such strategies. I was mugged twice on the avenue; both times kids came running by and snatched my bag and threw me to the ground. The first time I filed a report with the police. The second time I knew it was useless, because I had learned that the police had given them permission. The kids were allowed to claim victims on the avenue as far as the freeway overpass—three liberated blocks—in exchange for certain favors.